Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: The new Tour season is under way, and so is PGA Tour Confidential. A special welcome to an old friend, Brad Faxon, a superb player and a true student of the game. Brad will play the Tour’s West Coast swing, and he turns 50 in August — a big year for him. Let’s start with the incredible golf played at Kapalua. There was no Tiger (didn’t qualify) or Phil (off skiing), but how could you miss them when you had Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus, one of the most intriguing people in the game today, in a playoff, not to mention GMac going low and Camilo flipping divots?
Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Funny how Byrd doesn’t inspire us despite four wins before Maui. He was a great college player and is a promising pro. His career was interrupted by a hip injury, and then he lost his dad. He’s got a lot of potential, but he’s a soft-spoken guy who doesn’t draw attention to himself. Definitely underrated.
David Dusek, deputy editor, Golf.com: And clearly you don’t want to play Mr. Byrd in a playoff.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Garrigus is so high-strung that I had a feeling he’d miss a short one. Being a flat-liner like Byrd is a much better demeanor in sudden death.
Brad Faxon, eight-time PGA Tour winner: It’s funny though, Alan, you wouldn’t think two pars would win, would you?
Shipnuck: It wasn’t the bogey on No. 1 that was fatal for Garrigus. It was not making birdie on 18. With his power advantage, he has to end the playoff then and there. Otherwise Byrd is sure to wear him down.
Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Of all the guys that were in the hunt, Jonathan Byrd wins? Snore alert. Gotta give credit to Cam for calling it this morning. He also said Byrd would beat Garrigus. You should have put money down, Cam!
Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Byrd is refreshing. He’s an old-fashioned player: no glove, flat Hogan-like swing, cool demeanor. And he’s long enough to compete on most courses.
Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: For such a small guy, he can move it out there.
Faxon: Byrd is a really good player, a hard worker who studies his swing and uses Mike Bender, Zach’s guy. He is strong and can hit it high and far. His cerebral nature has hurt him early in his career, but it’s going to help him in the long run.
Dusek: There’s no reason Jonathan Byrd, having won at the end of last season and to start this season, can’t do in 2011 what Matt Kuchar did in 2010.
Shipnuck: This is Byrd’s fifth career victory. I’m sure that number will surprise a lot of people. Wake me when Matt Kuchar wins 5 times. Or Camilo Villegas. Or Anthony Kim. Or Hunter Mahan. Or Bubba Watson. Or Bill Haas. Or…
Godich: You can add Charles Howell III to that list.
GARRIGUS BLOWS 3-FOOTER IN PLAYOFF
Bamberger: Poor Robert Garrigus! Brad, and everybody else, is missing a short one to lose at Kapalua less painful than in other places?
Van Sickle: Yes. You’ve already got a win, otherwise you wouldn’t be there. Life is good.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think it’ll be less painful to Garrigus because the guy’s got an absolutely great attitude. He’ll figure out a way to use it as a positive.
Faxon: Garrigus was smiling after missing that putt in the playoff, and people will remember that! As for missing the putt, yes it is painful, especially since he knew that winning there would have brought him back no matter what he did the rest of the year. I liked how Robert said this will just make him more confident.
Dusek: As Gary has pointed out, with such a small field this is “sort of a tournament,” but if you are a pro you want to win. Period. Clearly Garrigus’s game is in good form, and that should make him feel positive. But tonight, he should feel pissed.
Faxon: My feeling, even though there are only 30 or so players, is that the winning score wouldn’t change much with a regular size field.
Morfit: Stricker said exactly the same thing yesterday.
Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Brad, you ever try a putter as short as Garrigus’s?
Dusek: Willie Shoemaker didn’t have a putter that short.
Bamberger: Kenny Green had one that was about 20 inches for a while.
Faxon: I remember Billy Andrade started with one close to that length, and then Ken Green used one like that, but you can barely feel the clubhead. I would love to know how heavy that thing is.
Herre: It has to be hard on the back.
Bamberger: How about Robert Garrigus’ life story, addictions to alcohol and drugs, and talking so openly about it. If you’re his manager, do you encourage him to be so honest and open? You can guess my answer.
Wei: Hell yeah, he should. Inspiring story. From what I’ve seen, he seems pretty candid in the press room. I’ve become a fan. Very likable and a good sense of humor. Oh, and his caddie’s name is Shoestring!
Faxon: People love honesty. I think people will really grow to like him because he does so much for people. He will routinely pick up meals in the caddie trailer for the entire day.
Godich: The fact that he has picked himself up after the meltdown at Memphis last year says a lot.
Shipnuck: Worse than the triple bogey in Memphis was the way he sweated out his trousers, earning the nickname “Swamp Ass.” It takes real character to overcome that!
Dusek: Half the PGA Tour could have that nickname.
Van Sickle: Everybody who tees it up in Memphis is eligible for that. The addiction story has already been told, and since he won Disney and got himself into a playoff in Maui, it’s less of a story. You can overcome bad news by making better news. Winning solves a lot.
Evans: Garrigus isn’t the first Tour player to struggle with drugs or alcohol addiction. I hope his manager is telling him to do whatever he needs to do to have peace with himself so he can play good golf. Doing that probably begins with his being open and honest about his past.
Bamberger: Amazing that his father was a medal-winning Olympic trap-shooter. Nothing will help you become a good golfer like exceptional hand-eye coordination. Our guest Brad is a superb ping-pong player, which, like trap-shooting, is another sport requiring great hand-eye.
Faxon: Michael, those in the know call it table tennis! Freddy Jacobsen schooled me last year. I bet lots of Tour players have great hand-eye coordination. To play at that level, you have to.
Bamberger: Table tennis? It’s like traps and bunkers, Brad. I’m going with traps in recent years, honoring my muni roots.
Faxon: Love the word “trap” for golf. It just sounds right.
Shipnuck: Garrigus is my new favorite player on Tour. He’s funny, charming, self-deprecating and truly appreciates how lucky he is to play golf for a living. It’s impossible not to root for him.
Faxon: I agree with Alan here. Garrigus seems to be the same guy, win or lose, and he’s friendly to everyone.
Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Garrigus was in the hunt at the AT&T National one year and was very open about his past. He really seems to enjoy each day of life, knowing where he’s been.
MCDOWELL LIGHTS UP KAPALUA ON SUNDAY
Bamberger: Graeme McDowell, playing Kapalua for the first time, finished a shot out of the playoff after a Sunday 62 on greens that can take years to learn. Is G-Mac the best player in the game right now? I’m saying he is. How about you all?
Faxon: It will always be difficult to quantify the best player in the world at one particular moment (except the last 13 years with Tiger), but right now you could argue that Graeme and Lee Westwood have played better than anyone else, and they’ve done it all over the world.
Dusek: G-Mac is getting into a habit of putting himself into contention each and every week. Change equipment? No problem. First time at Kapalua? Big deal. The guy seems to be maintaining a fabulously high level of play. I think he’s better than anyone, week-in and week-out, right now.
Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, Golf.com: Glad to see McDowell joined the PGA Tour this year, too. Having already won the U.S. Open at Pebble, he has a chance to capitalize on that win and become a big star in the States.
Faxon: GMac has some unique things in his swing, but pretty soon you guys will be writing “Swing like GMac”! I love seeing guys like him, who aren’t out of the textbook. Note: Jim Furyk.
Bamberger: What’s fun about trying to name the best player in the world is that, to my thinking, there’s no real science behind it. It’s the guy you want on your side if the game is car-car-house. And right now, no matter who you’re putting up, I want G-Mac.
Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Certainly over the last seven months he’s had the most success. Even more important, he looks like he believes it right now. The guy is just canning everything. With a nod to our colleague, Dan Patrick, you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him.
Evans: He’s certainly playing well, but Martin Kaymer is right up there with him.
Herre: I have him No. 1, too, Michael. The guy is on a big-time roll. It will be interesting to see how long he can keep it going. A stroke like his makes him a potential contender at Augusta.
Faxon: Gotta give credit to Kapalua founder Mark Rolfing for helping GMac read the grainiest greens we play on Tour.
Wei: McDowell stole the show today and made it really exciting coming down the stretch. When I saw his manager on the first tee today, he said to me with a sly smile, “It’s going to be a good day.” Apparently he has a crystal ball. I walked (climbed might be the better word) the last six holes with G-Mac’s group. It definitely didn’t feel like it was the Tour season opener. He couldn’t hit a bad shot or miss a putt. Best moment may have been when he holed the 20-footer on 15 for birdie.
Van Sickle: Graeme McDowell may well be the best Sunday player in the world right now. Sorry, Lee.
Hack: I was foolish enough to think Graeme might cool off in 2011. He’s on a ridiculous roll. The cup must look like a basketball hoop right now. But I’m sticking with Lee Westwood as the best player in the world.
Wei: Damon, Lee is the best player in the world for 54 holes…
Hack: I’m still a believer in ‘ol Lee. I can’t picture him going without a major much longer. (Lee, hurry up, dude!) I like his attitude. He doesn’t seem shattered by these near misses in the majors.
Godich: Westwood will win a major as soon as I don’t pick him in my rotisserie league.
Faxon: GMac’s stats this week: First in putting and T2 in GIR, a lethal combo anywhere you play.
Wei: First in putting in interesting. Team G-Mac said he was hitting it really well, but he wasn’t making putts because it took him a few days to figure out the grain. I guess “not putting well” for G-Mac is still pretty good.
Van Sickle: Obviously, Graeme played great all week, and it’s hard not to be impressed by that easy 62. But winning a 32-man outing at the start of the season — or the middle of the off-season if you’re Phil or Tiger — doesn’t even count as a tiebreaker. Westwood and Kaymer still rank ahead of him, but McDowell may be pressing TW for third.
Godich: Win the U.S. Open: Check. Drop the winning putt at the Ryder Cup: Check Stare down Tiger at his own tournament: Check. A Sunday 62 at Kapalua: Check. Yeah, I’ll take McDowell.
Van Sickle: Those first two are impressive. But winning Tiger’s 18-man outing doesn’t count. And beating 31 other guys in Hawaii doesn’t count for as much as winning a regular-season full-field event. His play was impressive, but I don’t think that’s enough to vault him past the other guys to No. 1.
Gorant: Interesting, too, that Kapalua is supposed to be a bomber’s paradise, and while G-Mac isn’t a dinker, he’s no John Daly, but he still wound up right in the thick of it.
Van Sickle: Amazing that McDowell came so close to winning despite not making birdie at the par-5 18th in any of the four rounds.
Gorant: GMac was eighth in driving distance, not bad!
Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Golf.com: I have G-Mac at No. 1 on my board right now, too. He’s obviously still having fun out there … who’s to say he isn’t still in the early stages of a two- or three-year run, ala Harrington of a few years ago?
Shipnuck: I’ve been G-Mac’s biggest honk going back to the fall. He’s certainly the hottest player in the world, maybe the best. This was a big deal for him to fly so far, whilst being so burnt-out, and play so well with all new equipment. The guy just keeps coming.
TIGER’S WEST COAST PROSPECTS
Bamberger: I don’t know how you could love golf and not have an extreme interest in Tiger Woods. Brad, you know Sean Foley, Tiger’s new swing coach. Are these changes bigger than what Tiger did with Haney? What do we all think Tiger will do in the West Coast swing?
Shipnuck: For the record, I’m boycotting the Tiger discussion. I refuse to discuss him until Torrey Pines. The readers thank me.
Faxon: Sean Foley will help Tiger’s swing to look better and more conventional. Tiger has been great with Butch and Hank, and will be with Sean. I think the fact that Sean works with some of the guys Tiger hangs out with like Sean O’Hair, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose will be good for him.
Dusek: Do I think Tiger is going to win on the West Coast Swing? No. Torrey Pines should be his best shot, but winning his first event of the season is a big ask. I don’t think he’s consistent enough to win the WGC Match Play, and that will likely end his West Coast Swing. That said, I’d love for the new-attitude Tiger to return to Riviera.
Bamberger: I think Tiger’s going to play a lot, make up for lost time, learn his new swing under pressure. In his mind I bet he doesn’t even count his 2010, and I’m only talking about his dozen or so events.
Faxon: Tiger, like many greats, gets inspiration from negative comments. No doubt he is practicing hard and motivated to win early. He will win. If not for Graeme’s heroics at Sherwood, he would have one in the bag already, but this one will be hard and emotional for him.
Evans: From talking to Sean Foley I know that Tiger is still battling his old moves, but that he made great strides at the Chevron. No matter the teaching, good players, especially world-class pros like Tiger, have to start “feeling” the positions they’re being taught. And right now I think Tiger is still weighing the long-term gains of the new golf swing with a dependence on some of the old stuff that made him great. So does he come out and win immediately? Yes but he’s not going to be the consistent player we once knew. Foley is not his psychologist.
Hack: I’m not seeing a West Coast win for Tiger. I’m seeing a Central Florida win for Tiger. Arnie’s place, sun going down, The King in his blue blazer.
Dusek: Bay Hill or Doral could easily be the spot.
Morfit: I think Tiger will figure out a way to win at Torrey Pines. There’s just something about that place. It’s always been there for him.
Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: Swing change or not, hard to imagine Tiger won’t be in the mix at Torrey Pines. No way he’ll play Riviera. Maybe Pebble.
Faxon: We forget that Tiger wins when he putts well, and he has never been a top player in driving accuracy, nor does he need to be. When he gets that putter feeling comfortable, he will win like he has before.
Godich: That raises a good question, Brad: Why is Tiger struggling on the greens? Is it because he has been spending so much time on his swing? Or could he be losing some of that feel?
Faxon: Mark, tough question to answer, but he has been switching putters from his Cameron to a Nike and back. He is a perfectionist, and when you get like that on the green, it can be tough to accept a miss here and there, and then it multiplies. Lots of times, you work on your swing and forget to practice your short game, and vice versa.
VILLEGAS GETS DQ’D AFTER RULES GAFFE
Bamberger: Who was surprised to see Villegas flip away that tiny divot when his ball was coming at it? He handled his DQ with considerable grace and he didn’t blame anybody but himself, which was nice to see and good for the game. Have you ever seen that rule come up before, Brad?
Faxon: I have seen the rule come up before, but it was unfortunate for Camilo that he was DQ’d. I would like to see a rule put in place next week that doesn’t DQ a player for an innocent breach. If something happened yesterday and was seen today, there is no penalty! What’s worse, missing your pro-am time or getting DQ’d by a Tweet?
Reiterman: I continue to be surprised by how many of these guys don’t know the rules. Villegas’s penalty was almost as bad as Inkster using that weighted club last year.
Wei: Some good resulted from Camilo’s DQ. Poulter’s caddie, Terry, came down with some illness during the second round, but they knew where to find a spare caddie. Camilo’s (new) caddie, Mick, got a call and took over on the back nine, and he filled in on Saturday, too.
Evans: The rules are the rules. Trying to measure “intent” is a tough business and the wrong one for PGA Tour rules officials. The Supreme Court has a horrible time with it.
Faxon: Intent is impossible to measure, but DQ’ing a guy the next day is pretty harsh. Eighty percent of the players that never get on TV have a big advantage if they inadvertently break a rule.
Walker: I was thinking about that. Certainly by the weekend, the guys on TV are the ones in the mix, so the added scrutiny is good. But, yes, the DQ for signing the incorrect card is harsh. If we’re going to allow TV viewers to spot violations (which I think is great), then the players should be penalized for the violation but not DQ’d for signing the incorrect card.
Faxon: Mike, you start the petition and I will be the first to sign!
Gorant: I agree. If you’re going to revisit an incident the next day, it should just be a score adjustment. Forget the incorrect scorecard DQ.
Wei: There should be some sort of statute of limitations on rulings being reviewed. If the same thing had happened on Sunday, after a winner had been declared, the player couldn’t be DQ’d on Monday, or for that matter, an hour later.
Van Sickle: Just assess the penalty, change the score and play on.
Morfit: I was with Dustin Johnson when he got a ruling after hitting it in the bleachers on 18 today, and he was about to get a new ball to drop. The Tour’s rules official, Jon Brendle, told him he had to stick with the one he hit into the stands if he still had it. (He did. A fan had given it back to him.) It was another near collision between D.J. and the Rules of Golf.
Faxon: You can always use a new ball when you drop under penalty or a stoppage of play, but for balls in play with interference or intervention you have to use the same ball!
Van Sickle: I bet that rule has been unwittingly violated a few times.
Herre: Kudos to Brendle for clueing in D.J., and I bet that’s SOP more often than not. What happened last year at Whistling Straits was an unusual set of unfortunate circumstances.
GOLF CHANNEL’S COVERAGE
Bamberger: In TV news, Rush Limbaugh is working with the new, looser Hank Haney (shirt tails out!). The Golf Channel has a morning show. I love NBC’s coverage of golf, but they blew it big time by not bringing back Brad Faxon for 2011. Good for Brad’s game, but bad for the rest of us. What’s one new or different thing you’d all like to see in golf coverage this year?
Van Sickle: I didn’t need to hear from three different Golf Channel analysts on Sunday’s telecast alone that “golf is a game of inches.” Something different? How about some insight? Brandel Chamblee is the network’s best. Tim Rosaforte does good reporting. Other than that, I don’t want to pick on any individuals, but I could do with a lot fewer cliches from Golf Channel. I don’t think I’m going to get insight until Brandel is the coverage host and Azinger is his color analyst. But I can dream.
Godich: They certainly didn’t lack for numbers: a host, no fewer than five people in the “booth,” and I forget how many roaming the course. There were almost as many analysts as there were players in the field.
Morfit: There was a lot of hullabaloo this week about to mic or not to mic the players, specifically Jonathan Byrd. It seems unnecessary. I’ve heard many, many interesting conversations between Phil and Bones that end up on the air, so it seems like with directional microphones the TV people can pretty much get whatever they want.
Wei: Jonathan Byrd was the only player to agree to be mic’ed. Talked with a few other players (Bettencourt, McDowell & Rose) about the concept. All of them weren’t against it, but they said they probably wouldn’t volunteer unless it was something like the Tavistock Cup. Rose didn’t want the added distraction of feeling like he had to temper his emotions or get into a situation where he’d reveal his “intellectual property.” But they all think it’d be great for the fans, and viewers could gain good insight!
Dusek: Great for the fans, and the viewers could gain good insight, but not from me? Lovely. Guys, golf is as much entertainment as sport. Why deny viewers/fans what they want? Why not mandate mics for anyone playing in one of the final four groups on Saturday and Sunday? Volunteers welcome on Thursday and Friday.
Van Sickle: We’ve already seen how exciting players with mics can be. See the old Skins Game telecasts. There were a few exceptions, like Tiger helping Fred Funk (wearing a skirt) line up a putt, but by and large the players had absolutely nothing interesting to say. It would be wasted effort.
Faxon: I like the idea of the mic for the players, but picking the right players is huge. That would be one of the first things I would like to see on TV. Tommy Roy always told us as announcers to be quiet when player and caddie were talking.
Dusek: I’d like to get players mic’ed. Sure, to Cameron’s point, boom mics pick up a lot of chatter, but I find the most interesting parts of the broadcasts are those few moments when we can listen to a player and caddie talk through a decision, commit to a strategy, etc. Why have someone guess in a tower when you can get it right from the source as it happens?
Evans: Shouldn’t the players have some privacy between the ropes? Can’t a man cuss in peace without a mom from Springfield calling in to complain?
Gorant: Not only was the plan voluntary, but the audio was/will not be live. It’ll only be played back after the fact, so nothing untoward will make it onto the air. That of course also eliminated the appeal of getting inside the player-caddie conversation as it’s unfolding.
Wei: Even if it’s on tape delay and producers won’t air anything too risque, I understand not feeling comfortable if every word you say is being recorded. It’s a long day out there, and you don’t need to feel paranoid about watching what you say.
Faxon: After doing 7 events for NBC last year, I was impressed by how many people are involved to put on a telecast. Also, how much pride the talent has to make a good broadcast. As a fan, I love hearing stories about players like the one about Garrigus. It would be nice to know more about some of the guys: how they got started, what age, what other sports did they play, what keys do they use in their swing, what do they do for practice, etc. I hear too often that players are all nobodies and clones, and I don’t buy that . The new cameras, stats and graphics are unreal and really help with the broadcast. Trackman data is the biggest teaching tool we’ve seen in the history of the game. It is already re-shaping ball flight laws.
Bamberger: It’s really odd, when you think about it, how little is done in golf coverage to help the viewers get a better sense for the players’ life stories. Anyway, it’s good for the writers.
Evans: More golf. There is too much talking on our telecasts.
Gorant: I agree. Fewer analysts and better pace. When golf is produced right, and it goes from shot to shot to shot, you almost can’t look away. But when they’re watching some guy line up his putt or go through his pre-shot routine, it can grind to a halt quickly.
Walker: With Swing Vision, and the ball-flight tracker and the putt-line overlay, golf on TV is pretty cool. I don’t think the microphones will add that much. What I want to see on TV are more events with strong fields, where Westwood, Woods, Kaymer, McDowell, Mickelson, McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are facing each other.